“This entire enterprise has been a response to the question, ‘What if?’;”
Filmmaker and producer J.J. Abrams never set out to build an empire, but his
company, Bad Robot, is one of the most diversified and ambitious media outfits to
emerge from Hollywood in a generation. In this issue’s cover story, writers Nicole
LaPorte and KC Ifeanyi offer a rare peek into Bad Robot’s quirky headquarters and
the wide array of ideas hatching inside. There’s definitely a “J.J.’s playhouse” feel
to the place, which features an actual toy workshop, a printing press, a music
studio, and carefully curated knickknacks.
What can business leaders learn from a movie director, fresh off shooting Star
Wars: Episode IX, who clearly prefers creating fictional worlds to crunching numbers? For starters, that curiosity and the embrace of limitless possibility—not to
mention cheerful professionalism—can help a company thrive during a period of
massive consolidation and change. While most entertainment and tech companies are competing to figure out how to win audiences and build new multiplatform franchises, Abrams’s willingness to respond to “what if?” with “why not?”
8 FASTCOMPANY.COM MAY 2019
FROM THE EDITOR
has made him one of the most
sought-after partners in media.
“What if?” is also the spark
behind many of the projects
featured in our annual World-Changing Ideas package, which
recognizes winners in 17 categories and honors more than 500 other
projects from startups, corporations, governments, and others seeking to effect
change in meaningful and scalable ways.
What if a takeout giant could help China
reduce deforestation by replacing disposable wooden chopsticks with edible ones?
What if a company could make renewable
energy available on demand by storing solar
and wind energy in a mechanical, shifting
tower for use on cloudy, breezeless days?
“The scope of ingenuity of these honorees
shows that there’s an enormous amount of
creativity ready to be unleashed for building
a better world,” says senior editor Morgan
Clendaniel, who oversees the awards. “The
people behind them are daring to think of
new possibilities for realities we’ve been told
too often aren’t fixable.” That’s not to say solutions are easy. Direct-to-consumer clothing
brand Everlane let senior writer Elizabeth
Segran peer into its effort to eliminate all
virgin, or newly created, plastic from its
products, packaging, and supply chain. At
times it seems like founder and CEO Michael
Preysman is pushing a boulder up a steep
hill. “It’s so hard,” he confesses.
Most of us spend our days meeting deadlines, making quarterly numbers, and solving immediate problems, too in the weeds to
contemplate the unthinkable. But as Abrams,
Preysman, and the World-Changing Ideas
winners show, the rewards for asking “what
if?” can be immeasurable.
composes his own
music for projects.
A WIDER LENS
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRISTIE HEMM KLOK